When Fabian Nelson learned he had made history Tuesday, becoming the first openly gay member of the Mississippi Legislature, it resonated.
Nelson, a Byram-based realtor, had just arrived with a friend at the Hinds County Courthouse to receive the official voting tallies when the unofficial results reported by media made it clear Nelson would win.
“I was stepping out of the car, and I was right in front of the Hinds County Courthouse,” Nelson said.
He was thinking back to the movie Ghosts of Mississippi, about the Medger Evers murder trial that took place there. Evers’ killer was not convicted until more than 30 years after the killing.
“There’s a moment where Wiley Evers, portrayed by Whoopie Goldburg in the movie, the moment that Mrs. Evers says, ‘Yay Medgar,'” Nelson said. “When I stepped out of the car, I felt every single thing that she felt … I felt gratitude, I felt the change that had happened in Mississippi at that moment.”
Nelson, D-Byram, said he and a friend, who had organized much of the grassroots efforts of the campaign, locked in a minutes-long embrace, then turned and walked inside.
The moment had been years in the making. Mississippi has never had a member of the House or Senate that is openly a member of the LGBTQ community. It was also the culmination of months of work for Nelson, who said he did not sleep in the roughly 36 hours before the election. That work will continue, even now that the election is over.
“Our field program was unlike any that the state has seen. We knocked on every single door in our district maybe five times in the past eight months. We knocked on doors and asked people to come out and support me and vote for me, and so what we’re going to do in probably the next few weeks, I’m going to go back and knock on every single door again to tell people ‘Thank you for voting for me,'” Nelson said.
Some of Nelson’s most important issues include Medicaid expansion and fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, or MAEP, formula. Nelson said in an interview leading up to the election that despite being a Democrat he believed he can work with the Legislature’s Republican supermajorities on those issues. He was particularly encouraged by what he saw last session on education funding, where a plan to recalculate MAEP and fully fund it for the first time in more than 15 years passed the Senate unanimously. The MAEP plan was crafted, and passed, by the Senate relatively late in session, and was not considered by the House.
“”I’m not even going to say I’m hopeful that it’s going to happen, I know that it’s going to happen because in this last legislative session the Senate unanimously voted to update the MAEP formula, they unanimously voted to fully fund MAEP, but when it went back to the House it did not happen,” Nelson said. “We are too close to getting it done, and if we have the right voice and the right people in there fighting, it will happen.”
Though he acknowledges the historical achievement of his victory, and says it marks just how far the state and nation have come, Nelson is clear that he wants to be an advocate not just for the LGBTQ community, but for all marginalized communities and for everyone in his district.
“Whether you supported me or you didn’t support me, I’m going to represent every single person equally and fairly. If anybody needs me for anything, it’s not about did they support me, it’s all about us coming together to make our district better,” Nelson said.
Nelson is a foster parent to three children and has recently adopted a fourth child from foster car. Prior to the election, Nelson said he was motivated to run in the race by his children.
“I want to leave this place better than I found it for my children. I feel like I have a responsibility to run for office to improve things when I see the things that are happening in our state that are not getting better,” Nelson said. “We stand on the sidelines so often and complain, get on Facebook and complain, get on social media and just drag our state, drag our elected officials. Instead of doing that I’m pumping positivity into our community. Instead of doing that I’m running for office.”
Nelson’s campaign received some national attention and support.
Shortly after the race was called, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund released a statement celebrating the decision. The political action committee supported Nelson’s candidacy, as it supports many openly LGBTQ candidates across the country.
“Voters in Mississippi should be proud of the history they’ve made but also proud to know they’ll be well-represented by Fabian. Fabian’s victory is a testament to his dedication to his community and the thoughtful, diligent work he put into winning this campaign,” said Annise Parker, CEO and president of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, in a statement.
Nelson won the Democratic runoff in District 66 by about 38%. He will face no opposition in the November general election, paving the way for him to replace Rep. De’Keither Stamps, D-Jackson, who is running for public service commissioner for the central district, a seat he narrowly lost in 2019.